Strange Fruit, pt 2: Mata Kuching

Mata Kucing
The next fruit I present to you is the mata kuching, literally, cat’s eye. It’s about the size of a quarter, with a thin peel that covers a juicy greyish meat that covers a hard shiny dark brown seed. The fruit is sweet with a musky, almost salty aftertaste. They are inexpensive in season. They’re selling for 3-4 ringgit a kilo, or less than 50 cents a pound.
Mata Kuching, Peeled
They are often called longans here, which led me on a little internet hunt. The longan is Dimocarpus longan (previously known as Euphoria longans), and is the premier export fruit of Thailand. However, according to the Purdue Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, the longan does not fruit in Malaysia. Now, that’s odd, because I’ve seen them growing at Ming Kiong Gardens near my son’s preschool, hanging heavy with fruit. The answer is provided by Prof. Wong Kai Choo of the Univeristy Putra Malaysia. (Formerly Universiti Pertanian Malaysia, the Malaysian Agricultural University. They recently changed their name; a sensible move, since as everyone knows, having anything to do with soil automatically lowers your social status by about three pegs. Ahem.)
Mata kucing seeds
He explains that the mata kuching is a particular variety of a subspecies of a relative of the subtropical longan. In Borneo, there may be dozens of identifiable races within this variety, the best of which are in Sarawak. All right! These races are categorized into three groups. And the group of races that bear the fruit I’m eating is likely the ‘kakus’ group, the only group that has brown fruit when ripe. Wow. Dimocarpus longan ssp. malesianus var. malesianus r. kakus. A race of a group of a variety of a subspecies of the longan! Thank you, Prof. Wong Kai Choo. But then, he takes a break from his scholarly language to note that the mata kuching “is hardly worth eating”. Well, who are you gonna believe, me or a professor of crop science with a specialty in Malaysian tropical fruit? Don’t answer that.

11 Replies to “Strange Fruit, pt 2: Mata Kuching”

  1. hi Zayn-al ~
    This fruit is called genips in St. Thomas. They are sweet and delicious and fun to eat. It’s true there’s not much fruit to them, but there they are, hanging from the tree, ready to eat! Yum.

  2. They’re not the same, Mom. The Genip is an arid tropical, Melicoccus bijugatus, and seems to be native to the Carribbean. But! It is of the family Sapindaceae which is the same family as the longan, mata kuching, and rambutan. So you were really pretty close. I’ve never had a genip so I can’t tell you if they taste similar.

  3. Assalamualaikum,
    I read an interesting entry in Footprint: Malaysia under the heading A Town Called Cat, pg 311:

    “There are a number of explanations as to how Sarawak’s capital acquired the name Cat (Kuching means ‘cat’ in Malay – although today it is more commonly spelt kucing as in modern Malay the ‘c’ is pronounced ‘ch’.)

    Local legend has it that James Brooke (the British explorer), pointing towards the settlement across the river, inquired what it was called. Whoever he asked, mistakenly thought he was pointing at a passing cat.

    It that seems far-fetched, the Sarawak museum offers a few more plausible alternatives. Kuching may have been named after the wild cats (kucing hutan) which in the 19th century were commonly seen along jungled banks of the Sarawak river.

    Another theory is that it was called after the furit buah mata kucing(!) which grows locally.

    Most likely however, is the theory that the town may originally have been known as Cochin – translated as port – a wrod commonly used across India and Indochina.”

    I have also checked a map, and found that there is quite a big river not that far from Kuching (i.e. between Kuching and Kota Samarahan) called Kuap River. Whether this Kuap refer to the earlier fruit (i.e. its Iban name) you mentioned or to the Malay verb ‘kuap’ I dunno.

    Happy fruit hunting! Wassalam.

  4. As Bro. Effendi mention the port of Cochin, which is in India, I remember a story whereby a Prof. of mine by the name of Prof. Dr. Misbahul Hasan (may Allah prolongs his life and gives him health) when he asked me where I come from, I answered “Kuching”, he mistakenly heard as if I say “Cochin”, so we starts talking about the town, finally we found out that we are referring to different town, i talk about Kuching he talks about Cochin. No wonder “sik betemu jakok” as the iban put it.

    Bye the way, Kuap is a place in Kota Samarahan, not far from Kuching, and along the said river you will find a malay kampung called Kampung Pengkalan Kuap.

  5. Another thing, Bro. Effendi don’t forget to visit Kuching, nice city with nice people, so nice that when James Brooke came, we took him as our 1st Rajah.

  6. Yeah, Zack, it’s in the same family, Sapindaceae. The flavor is not too similar, though. I don’t think lychees grow in Malaysia; they are more subtropical. The closest thing we have here is the rambutan. I’ll have pics of that as soon as it’s in season…

  7. Strange it is not, to me. I have eaten mata kuching all my life, love them, can’t get enough of them, and would die with a bunch of them in my mouth on my death-bed. The graphical way you presented them, with the shells, next the flesh and followed by the seeds, makes it all too clinical and totally unappealing. After all, you won’t post pictures of apples and oranges this way, would you? Let me tell you, the best way to eat them is the way the locals eat them – by the bagful, by the roadside, and by nary a thought to its origin! Vive la mata kuching!!!

  8. kamek orang di sitok panggil buah mata kucing.mun malas madah kucing,panggil buah mata pusak.kah,kah,kah..mena,bah.anything about buah DABAI?

  9. saya mahu tahu cara-cara menanam buah mata kucing bagi menghasilkan buah yang besar, baik dan bermutu…tanah jenis apa yang sesuai..dsbnya

  10. Hi everybody may i know where can i find this mata kuching fruit in kuala lumpur? please help thanks

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